"How are you today?" It's a question we ask on a daily basis without giving the answer a second thought. "Not bad," we reply. Or "could be better". But what does "better" mean exactly? And what's the key to achieving it?
As a health and wellbeing charity, it's something we wanted to get to the bottom of. So we carried out a major research study across the UK, the results of which we released this week. It explored the current state of the UK's wellbeing, and examined the factors that influence it. We called the report 'Eudaimonia: How do humans flourish?' because the Greek word Eudaimonia is commonly translated as 'happiness', 'welfare' or more accurately 'human flourishing'.
Our three-month long research project saw us question a nationally representative sample of 1,000 UK adults. We conducted an audit across all aspects of their lives to identify what factors improved their wellbeing or acted as a barrier.
The average Brit scored a mediocre 6.13 on an index of 10 for their overall wellbeing. This comes just months after the UK was found to be failing its citizens by a Boston Consulting Group report which revealed that despite our rising GDP, a disparity is occurring between our growing economy and the wellbeing of the population.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, financial concerns topped the list of stresses for respondents in our research. Being happy with your finances causes a 19% uplift in average wellbeing scores, while being extremely worried about money causes a 33% fall. That means there's a 52% divide in scores between the most and least financially confident people in society.
These findings are important as they challenge the 'poor but happy' fallacy - the myth that it's easier to be happy when earning less as you're spared the stress of society's high earners. Equally it debunks the myth of the lonely millionaire who feels isolated from the rest of society by his or her wealth.
Unfortunately, as austerity continues to hit hard, this isn't an issue that looks set to improve. In fact, Britain's financial inequality gap is said to be widening. Research by Oxfam this year revealed that the richest 1% of the UK population owns more than 20 times the wealth of the poorest fifth. In addition, a 2015 study by the London School of Economics found that young people in their 20s were 18% worse off than 20 year olds were just five years ago, indicating the speed of change. Sadly, the growing financial inequality in today's society is enormously corrosive to the wellbeing of those affected.
And it's not only financial woes that are affecting our nation's ability to live well. Our research also unveiled that lacking good relationships, positive educational experiences, and mental stimulation - such as learning a new skill - are other major factors that influence feelings of wellbeing.
So what actions can we put in place to start living better and achieving Eudaimonia?
Our research found that individuals feel wellbeing at its highest when we are on holiday or socialising with family and friends. This clearly demonstrates how crucial it is to take time out for ourselves and create a healthy work-life balance. Despite this, recent studies show that the average British worker puts in the equivalent of 38 working days over and above their contracted hours each year.
There's obviously much work to be done and it's now vital that we recognise the importance of achieving a healthy balance in our lives: allowing time from work for ourselves, engaging in both physical activity and mental stimulation, and surrounding ourselves with more positive relationships. These all have a significant impact on our feelings of wellbeing.
What are we doing about it?
At Central YMCA we've decided to take a radical, grassroots approach. We want to rip up the rule book, look past assumptions and ultimately come up with real, practical solutions that help people flourish. The goal is to kickstart a wellbeing revolution.
We're launching a wellbeing incubator at our Central London gym, YMCA Club, to try out and nurture new ideas. We're also looking to help people to work on their minds as much as their bodies. There are plans to launch new training programmes and qualifications that tap into wellbeing and the mind, such as introducing classes that improve mental stimulation.
But we can't drive forward this movement alone - we need the help of employers, other charities, and society as a whole. So, we invite you all to become part of this movement with us, and help us on our way to achieving nationwide Eudaimonia.
Please visit http://www.ymca.co.uk/eudaimonia-report to join us on our journey.
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